Summary and book reviews of Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

Birds of America

By Lorrie Moore

Birds of America
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  • Hardcover: Sep 1998,
    291 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 1999,
    291 pages.

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Book Summary

A long-awaited collection of stories--twelve in all--by one of the most exciting writers at work today, the acclaimed author of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and Self-Help. Stories remarkable in their range, emotional force, and dark laughter, and in the sheer beauty and power of their language.

From the opening story, "Willing"--about a second-rate movie actress in her thirties who has moved back to Chicago, where she makes a seedy motel room her home and becomes involved with a mechanic who has not the least idea of who she is as a human being--Birds of America unfolds a startlingly brilliant series of portraits of the unhinged, the lost, the unsettled of our America.

In the story "Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People" ("There is nothing as complex in the world--no flower or stone--as a single hello from a human being"), a woman newly separated from her husband is on a long-planned trip through Ireland with her mother. When they set out on an expedition to kiss the Blarney Stone, the image of wisdom and success that her mother has always put forth slips away to reveal the panicky woman she really is.

In "Charades," a family game at Christmas is transformed into a hilarious and insightful (and fundamentally upsetting) revelation of crumbling family ties.

In "Community Life,"a shy, almost reclusive, librarian, Transylvania-born and Vermont-bred, moves in with her boyfriend, the local anarchist in a small university town, and all hell breaks loose. And in "Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens," a woman who goes through the stages of grief as she mourns the death of her cat (Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Häagen Dazs, Rage) is seen by her friends as really mourning other issues: the impending death of her parents, the son she never had, Bosnia.

In what may be her most stunning book yet, Lorrie Moore explores the personal and the universal, the idiosyncratic and the mundane, with all the wit, brio, and verve that have made her one of the best storytellers of our time.

Charades

It's fitting that Christmas should degenerate to this, its barest bones. The family has begun to seem to Therese like a pack of thespians anyway; everyone arrives, performs for one another, catches early flights out, to Logan or O'Hare. Probably it's appropriate that a party game should literally appear and insert itself in the guise of a holiday tradition (which it isn't). Usually, no one in Therese's family expresses much genuine feeling anyway; everyone aims instead--though gamely!--for enactments.

Each year now, the stage is a new one--their aging parents, in their restless old age, buying and selling town houses, moving steadily southward from Maine. The real estate is Therese's mother's idea. Since he's retired, Therese's father has focused more on bird feeders; he is learning how to build them. "Who knows what he'll do next?" Her mother sighs. "He'll probably start carving designs into the side of the house."

This ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Time

The bemused and angry women in Birds defiantly quip their way through trouble. . . . .if publishing goes flat, [Moore] can always get a booking in Vegas.

The New York Times

At once sad, funny, lyrical and prickly, Birds of America attests to the deepening emotional chiaroscuro of her wise and beguiling work.

The New York Review of Books

Her depth of focus has increased, and with it her emotional seriousness. I hesitate to lay the adjective wise on one of her age. But watching a writer move into full maturity is always exciting. Flappy-winged take-off is fun; but the sign of an artist soaring lifts the heart.

Newsweek

[A] fiercely funny book about great and tiny jolts to the heart, about the push and pull of relationships. . .Moore is already regarded as one of her generation's wittiest and shrewdest writers. Her lovely sentences, goofy puns and wisecracks stick in the brain like song lyrics. . .Her life is hers. Her work, thank heavens, is ours.

The New York Review of Books

Her depth of focus has increased, and with it her emotional seriousness. I hesitate to lay the adjective wise on one of her age. But watching a writer move into full maturity is always exciting. Flappy-winged take-off is fun; but the sign of an artist soaring lifts the heart.

The New York Times

At once sad, funny, lyrical and prickly, Birds of America attests to the deepening emotional chiaroscuro of her wise and beguiling work.

Publishers Weekly

Moore's insights into the springs of human conduct, her ability to catch the moment that flips someone from eccentric to unmoored, endow her work with a heartbreaking resonance.

Author Blurb Jane Hamilton
Whenever Lorrie Moore publishes a new story there we are, her fans, at the ready, calling around, 'Have you read it yet? Can you believe what she did this time? Is there anyone like her?' Indeed, there are very few writers at work now who love words the way she does, very few who are as inventive and wild and careful, all at once, sentence by sentence. Add to these gifts her wisdom, her humor, her singular point of view.

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